Caroline DéodatSous le ciel des fétiches, video still, 2023.
© Caroline Déodat / ADAGP, Paris / CARCC, Ottawa (2024)
Photo: courtesy of the artist

Open Skies of Night : On Caroline Déodat’s Sous le ciel des fétiches

Steyn Bergs
The first few images are black and white, and silent. In what is recognizably a tourist resort, we see — but do not hear — a band perform, as a small audience sits watching. After a brief shot of an abandoned stage, attended to by a sound technician, images ensue of a different kind of performance: a sequence of about a minute and a half shows five ­dancers engaged in what uninitiated viewers will likely interpret as a dramatic and rather carefully choreographed dance act. Three of the dancers seem to perform a supporting role, moving in sync and staying in the background, as two ostensible protagonists (one female, one male) appear to be courting and provoking one another. Although the shot is quite condensed — starting in medias res and cutting away just as abruptly — observers will likely notice the swaying hip movements of the female dancers in particular, which are enhanced and accentuated by how they throw their layered skirts back and forth to the rhythm of the music, which remains inaudible.

These elements, as it turns out, are characteristic of Sega, a genre of music and dance that was developed in the eighteenth century across different islands in the Western Indian Ocean, and is now considered typical of the island of Mauritius. Although it was originally practised predominantly by enslaved people, Sega dance and music became culturally valorized over the course of the twentieth century; it is now considered Mauritius’s “national dance” and was recognized by UNESCO in 2014 as a form of intangible cultural heritage. It also serves as an important tourist attraction on the island, and has been performed at hotels aimed primarily at European tourists since the 1950s — when Mauritius was still firmly under colonial rule.

Subscribe to Esse or log in now to read the full text!

Log in
This article also appears in the issue 111 - Tourism

Suggested Reading